CW: Discussion of having abuse triggers, no description of abuse.
I remember going to yoga for the first time at 18 and doing my first cat’s stretch. The rolling of my hips, while staying connected to my breath, made me panic. A history of childhood abuse made this connection to my body both terrifying and a thing I wanted most desperately. As I started to attend yoga regularly, I would frequently start to sob mid-pose because of what the movement unlocked in my body.
And these were the good days. The days I could face unlocking the trauma stored in my body and feeling the feelings it evoked. I would also go through months at a time when I would try to make it to class everyday and not manage to. Everyday. It’s not that this has entirely ceased to be an issue but it happens far less often. Some of the reason for this is that through years of movement (and also a hell of a lot of therapy), I am not breaking open new trauma in my body, I am facing something much more familiar. But there are still really hard days and there are concrete things that have helped. I’ve got a few of them outlined here:
- Having a home yoga routine. Sometimes being in a public place *and* moving my body is just too damn much. I subscribe to Gaia.com because there are thousands of routines and I like that I can enter preferred styles, lengths of time, or a preferred teacher and just select a routine based on those criteria. However, if additional $7 a month is not available to you (so many chronic folks have such tight access to funds), you tube is full of free and simple yoga routines. Once you find a teacher you like it can help to narrow the scope to be less overwhelming.
- Find a setting that will tell you that your practice is just between you and your
body. Do you need to feel entirely alone? Is there a room you can go into with a door that locks? Can you barricade the room with a chair against the door? This is not a comment on your spouse or room mates, it is a way to speak to the survivour part of your brain and tell it “you are safe to move and no one can touch you.” It is a way to tell your triggers “you are the only one here and you can move just for you.”
- Skip the poses that don’t feel okay for you. Once you have been doing yoga for a long time, you will have the skills to adapt your practice. But in the early stages, if moving a certain way is going to send you into a crisis, come back to sitting in a cross-legged position, to child’s pose, or to shavasana and stay connected to your breath until the next pose is happening (you can do this is classes too). I had a yoga teacher once who told me that the practice begins when you stay centred on breathing in and breathing out and it ends when you hold your breath. Know that taking some time just to stay centred on your breath is a valuable way to continue your practice and honour yourself and what your body is releasing.
- Get support. I find it invaluable to have people I check in with before a practice and/or to check in when it’s completed. So much of the abuse I faced was isolating and just knowing that other people might have fears that make them avoid a sense of connection to their bodies and breath is helpful part of breaking this sense of isolation in my current struggles. I run a Yoga and Meditation Accountability Group on FB. Please feel free to request to join and I’ll add you to this tiny community of folks supporting each other in taking care of ourselves.
If you are doing a practice today, my wish for you is a restored connection to your body and sense of self. If you are struggling to practice today, my wish for you is that you find a way into a space where you can feel safe enough to move.